May 14th, 2019
CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) – President Bush looked tired as he sat down one last time in his famous beige easy chair in the Green Room of Lone Star Auditorium. His mind seemed elsewhere, and he was silent for a few minutes. Slightly impatient to begin our interview, however, I gently pointed out he was still holding his baton.
“Oh!” he said, giving it a fond look and setting it aside. “It’s gonna be hard to let go.”
Crawford audiences feel the same way. No one knew exactly what George W. Bush was going to do after two terms in the nation’s highest office. But one can’t help but think he knew all along. After nine seasons as founder, conductor, and Artistic Director of the Greater Crawford Symphony Orchestra, it’s hard to believe Bush won’t be with us next season. I asked if there was a defining moment of his tenure.
“Definitely the performance of Shostacovich’s Second Symphony in 2010. Many people didn’t understand what I was trying to say. But the audience did. Some board members left, but we stayed the course. 2012 I was pleased to curate a Hanns Eisler festival in the small hall, and when Fred [Rzewski] premiered his first piano concerto here the following season, I felt we had won the war.”
“People were surprised when you unionized the orchestra at Rzweski’s insistence.”
“I often surprise people. But they always know where I stand.”
“Are there any programming decisions you now regret?”
“Well – he’s gone now, so I guess I can admit I wasn’t happy with the first two movements of Rummy’s Beethoven’s Ninth, and I shouldn’t have let him lead the third. But we found another guy for the ‘Ode to Joy,’ so it all ended up okay. Then there was the Snoop Dog’s ‘Symphonic Rap Fantasy’ with President Obama. It was a better idea than it turned out to be. We thought people would be okay with Barack saying the ‘n’ word, but he wasn’t black enough. Overall, though, I’d say the cons have outweighed the pros.”
“What about Lowell Liebermann’s Flute Concerto for Tony Snow?”
“I loved Lowell’s work. But what really blew me away that night was Tony’s encore.”
“You’re referring to his rendition of Sciarrino’s ‘L’orizonte luminoso Di Aton’?”
“Yes – I mean we should have amplified it, but it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
“And what about Condoleezza Rice’s controversial tempo choice in Brahms’s first piano concerto?”
“A little slow. I’ll leave it at that.”
“A few seasons ago, despite approving the commission, you refused to conduct Tobias Picker’s opera ‘The Brave Pioneers.’ Would you comment on that now?”
“Well. I knew it was just gonna be a bunch of fluff. I’m happy people liked it, and it’s gone on to be a big success. But I’ve always been a leader who’s done what he thinks is right even when it’s not popular.”
“Like your continued support of General Manager Alberto Gonzalez and his handling of the firing of the entire bassoon section?”
“I’m not going to comment on that.”
“Are you looking forward to Vienna?”
“Yes – Doris Dörrie and I have been talking about a new production of Lulu in which Lulu’s followed by a giant raccoon for the first act and is strangled by an octopus at the end. Doris is a genius – and she’s a regular at the Ranch. As is Olga Neuwirth, who’s rewriting the score. I’ve never thought that third act worked. Meantime, though, I’ll have to suffer through a million performances of The Magic Flute. All that Masonic hocus-pocus.”
There came a knock at the door. A voice announced a very special guest was here to see Bush. Bush smiled. He knew already who it was.
“Hey gringo!” said a burly, red-shirted man, entering.
Bush jumped out of his chair and turned to me. “Have you met Hugo? He’s our next conductor. Those guys in Venezuela sure know how to train musicians!”